Dietary Supplements and Functional Foods: WYNTK

Anyone who has taken even the most casual glance around a local supermarket can attest that the supplement industry is big business. It seems there’s a supplement for literally anything and everything! How is one to navigate this? First, let’s start with some definitions.

Dietary Supplements: any substance taken to replace missing nutrients in a person’s diet, and they come in many forms such as tablets or capsules, powders, liquids, chewable or gummies.

Functional Foods: foods that provide health benefits beyond basic nutrition.

Vitamins, minerals, amino acids, botanicals/herbals, and various classes of naturally occurring organic chemicals and compounds (things like fish oils, adaptogens, melatonin, caffeine, enzymes, etc), all are types of supplements. Foods that have high levels of some of these components, or have any of these components added into them, would be considered functional foods.

The idea behind taking dietary supplements or eating functional foods is to fill in any nutritional gaps in one’s diet or to increase a nutrient level for therapeutic reasons. Either way, supplements should never be substitutes for healthy eating. Cleaning up one’s diet first is a must. Then the proper way to incorporate supplements: target them toward one’s individual needs. I never throw “everything but the kitchen sink” at my patients. Pill fatigue is a very real phenomenon. Instead, I take the time to customize care based on my patents’ diets, medications, medical conditions, labs (looking for signs of clinical deficiency), and personal preferences.

And of course, I always recommend that my patients purchase the best quality supplements they can find. The supplement industry is only loosely regulated, so care needs to be taken to choose reputable brands, to avoid any possible contaminants.

It is important to check and make sure that your supplements do not interact with any of your medications. This is not uncommon and is one thing I carefully check for all patients in my practice.

It is also important to realize that taking mega doses of supplements can cause toxicity. Unlike foods, the nutrients found in supplements are concentrated. Dosage is a very important factor to consider.

All this said, there is one supplement I am not a fan of: selenium. Whether is it taken in a tablet form or by eating Brazil nuts, extreme caution needs to be taken not to overdo intake of this trace mineral. I have seen several patients with early symptoms of selenium toxicity, symptoms which ceased once the form of supplemental selenium was removed from their diet.

*WYNTK – What You Need To Know